It just felt like there was too much going on for 2001’s Driving Rain to have much of a chance of making its mark. It was Paul McCartney’s first complete album of originals since the death of his wife Linda, and, in the interim, he had taken up with Heather Mills, so that aspect of it seemed to overshadow the actual music. On top of that came 9/11, which led McCartney to promote the album with “Freedom,” a jingoistic one-off that had little to do with the rest of the lovey-dovey material. All that aside, however, the album suffers anyhow from being unnecessarily long at 16 songs, not one of which quite muscles its way into classic territory. Here is a song-by-song review:
16. “Spinning On An Axis”- McCartney’s first of two songwriting collaborations with son James on the album is sunk by lyrics that aren’t nearly as deep as they want to be and music that struggles to define what it wants to be and ends up not being much at all.
15. “Freedom”- The intent was impeccable, and there’s no question the song did it’s job at the Concert for 9/11. But going back and listening to it as anything more than a curiosity is not something I can see many McCartney fans doing.
14. “Heather”- Some decent chord changes, but this mostly instrumental felt indulgent then. And, of course, knowing the outcome of the marriage, it feels downright awkward now.
13. “Back In The Sunshine Again”- The second McCartney/McCartney track on the album is a little better than the first, but not much.
12. “About You”- The rock racket it tries to raise sounds labored, and, by this point in the album, the praising love songs are struggling to say something new from the ones that preceded them. It does find its groove in the run-out, but by then you might have lost interest.
11. “Tiny Bubble”- Not to be confused with Don Ho, the best part of this bluesy midtempo track is McCartney’s willingness to let the melody drift to unlikely places. Nothing too memorable, but sounds pretty good while it’s on the speakers.
10. “Rinse The Raindrops”- The main section with the lyrics is forceful enough. How much tolerance you have for endless instrumental noodling probably dictates how you feel about the rest. As someone who thinks “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” should have ended before the bongos enter the picture, you can guess how I feel about it.
9. “Your Loving Flame”-Suffers from a lot of the same issues as “From A Lover To A Friend.” There’s a nice melody in there, but the lyrics are cliched and the production pushes a little too hard to try to get it to lighter-waving mode. That said, it fits into a kind of pleasing balladic template that makes you like it in spite of your best intentions.
8. “Driving Rain”- More jazzy than we’re used to from Paul, this one. And he wears it pretty well for the most part, although the improvisatory lyrics run out of steam as the song progresses. I do like the line, “Something’s open it’s my heart” though.
7. “Riding Into Jaipur”- Just a few weeks after the release of this album, George Harrison passed away. This feels like a preemptive tribute by Paul, and a pretty able one at that.
6. “Your Way”- Locating the heart of the country has never been an issue for Paul, and he does so effortlessly with this little, foot-tapping love song that’s charming if a bit slight.
5. “From A Lover To A Friend”- I feel like this echoes classic McCartney efforts without quite getting there on its own. The music is unmistakably lovely, stirring piano balladry with Abe Laboriel Jr. doing an excellent job on the Ringo-style fills. But the lyrics are all over the place to me, pronouns kind of thrown about willy-nilly to confuse the perspective and no real unifying aspect to really make the emotional connection. The music wins out in the end, but it feels like it could have been so much greater.
4. “Magic”- The serendipity of love is explored on this dreamy song. Macca’s bass work is inventive, and some leftover Jeff Lynne mojo must have been hanging around the studio from the Flaming Pie sessions, because this one could easily have slid onto an ELO album circa ’78 or so, which is a good thing.
3. “Lonely Road”- Those electric guitars really have some edge to them, and McCartney’s lyrics speak with a kind of fierce honesty to the disorientation that one feels after someone they loves moves on. Bluesy and tough, this song conjures up some raw emotions. Alas, it sets a personal tone that the rest of the songs just don’t quite sustain.
2. “I Do”- Producer David Kahne doesn’t shy away from ladling some Beatlesque bombast to the production here, and it suits the delicate melody and McCartney’s sweet sentiments. Just enough melancholy is located on the periphery to make the loving center that much more affecting. And Paul is everywhere, both singing high and lovely and rolling underneath it all on the bass, a wonderful performance at both extremes.
1. “She’s Given Up Talking”- Slow, heavy and compelling, with lots of vocal and instrumental effects that make matters all the more interesting. Kahne does a nice job laying things on and then pulling them away, while the relentless thrum of Paul’s bass and the smack of Laboriel’s drums provide steady ground. Add on the quirky little character sketch that McCartney delivers in the lyrics and you’ve got an unheralded track that would make for a great live cut if he ever decided to showcase some of his late-period solo stuff.
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. Check out the link below to my new book Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, available now.)
Paul McCartney’s second solo foray into rock and roll and rhythm and blues history outdid the first, which was no small feat. Unlike CHOBA B CCCP, which had a tossed-off quality that sometimes helped and sometimes hindered the material, 1999’s Run Devil Run, consisting primarily of cover songs of mid-20th century classics and obscurities, benefits from what seems like a little bit more forethought. McCartney also found a wonderful ad hoc band for the project, featuring crackerjack guitarists David Gilmour and Mick Green. His three original songs aren’t anything too memorable, but his first album following the death of wife Linda found him on firm, familiar musical footing that must have been reassuring to him at such a difficult time.
15. “Try Not To Cry”- The staccato, herky-jerky feel of this McCartney original feels beamed in from a different era than the classic covers, breaking up the spell a bit. Plus it’s a rare McCartney song that is lacking in the melody department.
14. “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”- Even though Chris Hall adds an excellent accordion part, zydeco is the one sub-genre represented on this collection where McCartney doesn’t quite feel at home.
13. “What It Is”- The band makes a pretty good ruckus on this one, but it feels a bit rushed in terms of the execution and a bit blah songwriting-wise.
12. “Shake A Hand”- McCartney gets a chance to tear up his larynx here. Maybe he gets a little silly with it here and there, but it slides by.
11. “Party”- One more wild rocker for the road sends the album out on a note of raucous fun. The prolonged ending is a nice touch.
10. “Run Devil Run” – The best of the three McCartney originals holds its own with the classics surrounding it. Frenetic but held together by the chemistry of the band and Paul’s powerhouse vocal.
9. “Blue Jean Bop”- Great way to start the album, with this modest little Gene Vincent number that gives Paul a workout on bass and lets Gilmour and Green cut loose on electric guitar.
8. “She Said Yeah”- The Beatles did pretty well with Larry Williams covers, so it makes sense that McCartney would look to one of his classics once again. The band revs this one up and provides some serious thunder, while Paul’s vocals are suitably wild and woolly.
7. “I Got Stung”- A great, relatively obscure barnburner on which the band to pack a serious wallop. That they do this while still sounding loose, not shambolic, is a testament to the unit assembled by McCartney for this project.
6. “Movie Magg”- McCartney slides into this Carl Perkins rambler like it was written for him. It would have been easy to do “Blue Suede Shoes” or something like that. He does more honor to the original artists by digging deeper into their catalogs, showing just how intriguing some of their lesser-known songs were. A wonderfully restrained and charming performance from Macca on this one.
5. “All Shook Up”- Here the band takes a well-known chestnut and imbues it with enough personality that it becomes their own. Each instrumentalist is fired up individually, but they also all come together cohesively for some unstoppable forward thrust. Explosive in a way that even Elvis’ original couldn’t claim to be.
4.”Coquette”- Of all the artists that McCartney has either covered or honored with homages over the years, Fats Domino is probably the one that, for whatever reason, has been the tightest fit. As Pete Wingfield knocks out the triplets, Paul struts through a standout vocal on this typically charismatic Fats’ composition. The lyrics don’t work unless the singer emanates confidence that the titular girl is going to realize her folly and come crawling back, and McCartney is on top of that all the way.
3. “Honey Hush”- What really stands out time and again on the uptempo numbers is how the originals are beefed up with modern rock heft while the original, classic feel is maintained. You can hear that balancing act pulled off most memorably on this rip-snorter. McCartney and producer Chris Thomas deserve credit for the arrangements they concocted on this and the other fast ones. Why would anyone want to hush up this glorious yakety-yak?
2. “No Other Baby”- This brooding slow-builder is one of the more obscure songs that Paul took on for this project, which works in its favor. Without the preconceived notions from the listener about what it should sound like, McCartney can turn it into a smoky, brooding slow-builder, the one cover here that you could say sounds “modernized,” and effectively so. He builds the tension expertly until finally uncorking with more emotive vocals as the song progresses.
1. “Lonesome Town”- Paul’s best decision on this classic ballad made famous by Rick Nelson was to sing it in a high register throughout. Whereas Nelson’s version is brilliant for all that it holds back, Macca’s take succeeds in a different way, spilling everything on the table. (Plus the original didn’t have a top-notch David Gilmour guitar solo in its favor.) I’m not one to jump to conclusions and say that he was thinking about Linda while he sang so emotionally here, but it’s certainly tempting to connect those dots. In any case, it’s a wonderful combination of songwriting perfection and interpretive feeling. And all of us who’ve ever been denizens of that figurative location can relate and wallow right along with him.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. Check out my new book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, available now. Order at the link below or at your favorite online bookseller.)
In many ways, 1997’s Flaming Pie set the template for what a late-period Paul McCartney album would sound like. With the singles charts no longer an option, McCartney could play directly to his fans and give them what they wanted: Some fun, feisty rockers, a handful of ballads, maybe a special guest or two, plenty of self-reflexive nods to the old days, and nothing that strayed too far from the brand (that’s what his side projects as The Fireman were for.) And Flaming Pie certainly rates on the higher end of these types of “In case of desire for Paul McCartney album, break glass” kind of projects, especially in terms of the love songs. Here is a song-by-song review:
14. “Really Love You”- Some people may love hearing old bandmates McCartney and Ringo Starr jamming away. To me, improvisation is best when you can’t tell it’s improvisation. I think anyone listening to this could tell it was made up on the spot.
13. “If You Wanna”- One of three collaborations with Steve Miller on the album, this sounds pretty good but, ironically considering it’s a driving song, doesn’t really go anywhere.
12. “Heaven On Sunday”- Jeff Lynne, who produces many of the tracks here, gives this one a lovely glow, but the best part is when Paul trades blues licks on guitar with his son James. That instrumental passage seems beamed in from a different song, creating a little disconnect from the adult contemporary feel of the main section.
11. “Souvenir”- Another one that’s a bit schizophrenic, half Wilson Pickett, half “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Lynne can’t quite meld it all together without the seams showing, but the individual parts of the disjointed whole command your attention.
10. “Young Boy”- Just an effortless pop track with a bit of a melancholy tinge. Miller shows his chops on lead guitar, while McCartney proves an able one-man rhythm section. A full album collaboration between these two should be on any Macca fan’s wish list.
9. “Beautiful Night”- The verses are gorgeous, reminiscent of the stellar Tug Of War ballad “Wanderlust,” all with Ringo lending those off-kilter, just-right fills any Beatle fan adores. The refrains are just OK, stirring musically but lyrically needing a bit more care. The coda is a fun ruckus, Starr getting in on the vocal act for old time’s sake.
8. “Great Day”- Paul wrote this album-closer in the early 70’s, and it’s eerie how well he recaptures his sound from that era, right down to Linda’s backing vocals. On an album that looks back as much as ahead, it makes for the right kind of send-off.
7. “The World Tonight”- Lynne gives McCartney’s drums a little Wilbury twist to add some rockabilly heft to the slightly psychedelic tone of this one. And Macca gets in a great couplet: “I go back so far, I’m in front of me.” The lyrical dots don’t always connect, but Paul sings it as if his life depends on it.
6. “The Song We Were Singing”- I could have gone one star higher on this affecting opening track if it had just a little more deviation from the acoustic verse to soaring chorus (with the harmonium, reminiscent of “We Can Work It Out”) formula, which gets repeated a bunch here. Still, it sets the nostalgic tone of the album quite well.
5. “Somedays”- Buoyed by typically sensitive George Martin orchestration, this introspective ballad manages to be both a devoted love song and a subtly pensive meditation on aging. Throw in some genuine empathy for those “who fear the worst” and you’ve got a number that covers a lot of bases without showing any sign of strain.
4. “Flaming Pie”- Among other things, this album is a great showcase for Paul’s instrumental dexterity. A largely do-it-yourself affair, it gives him showcases throughout on bass (of course), drums and acoustic guitar. Here he takes charge with some steamy piano licks, which back up wonderfully nonsensical lyrics inspired by John Lennon’s equally nonsensical tale about the origin of the name Beatles.
3. “Used To Be Bad”- A good little blues song immeasurably elevated by the easy camaraderie and instrumental excellence of McCartney and Miller. If you remember their late 60’s collaboration “My Dark Hour,” consider this duet a sizzling sequel that proves the pair hadn’t lost a stitch in the three-decade interim. People tend to think of Miller as a hitmaker, which he is, but his solos here remind that he can really rip on lead guitar.
2. “Calico Skies”- Well, this has always been what it’s all about with Paul, right? Sitting with an acoustic guitar, enchanting his audiences with the kind of tune that seems brand new and handed down through the ages all at once. And those who get at him about his lyrics should check out this set, which trips from the lips with nimble ease and both warms your heart and breaks it all at once. The kind of song that’s too good to be background music, because it will stop you in your tracks and whatever you’re doing will become secondary to the need to listen. Very powerful stuff in a humble package.
1. “Little Willow”- “Thanks, Mo,” Paul can be heard saying at the end of “Get Back.” This achingly beautiful lullaby was his way of expressing that gratitude to Maureen Starkey after her passing, as a way of trying to ease the pain her children felt. Lynne’s expert massaging of ballads comes in handy here, and his backing vocals provide supportive counterpoint to McCartney’s anguished, wordless cries. “Nobody warns you” is the hard part, the fact that even when you think you’re prepared to lose a loved one, you’re really not. But though you may bend in that cold, hard wind, the goodness of the loved ones still around allows you to locate the strength to hold on tight. All of that conveyed in three musical minutes that can pry cathartic tears from you on any occasion.
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. My new book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, arrives this month. Pre-order it in the link below.)
Wings’ unexpected swan song, 1979’s Back To The Egg doesn’t quite deserve the critical lashing it often receives. To some it was dispiriting to see Paul McCartney trailing the blaze of New Wave and punk rock, although the other way to look at it is that at least he had his ear tuned to modern sounds. It is true that the album’s second half is unfocused and the songwriting on the whole is below Macca’s standards, but he throws himself into the thing with abandon, and the last version of Wings is at least an energetic bunch. Here is a song-by-song review:
14, “Reception”- The album’s abbreviated, discofied, instrumental intro seems to make the promise of a concept album that never actually materializes.
13. “We’re Open Tonight”- This meditative acoustic song is another example of an incomplete track that McCartney kind of wedges into the proceedings, albeit without the grace that he once managed on projects like Abbey Road of Band On The Run.
12. “Winter Rose/Love Awake”- These two songs aren’t much on their own and don’t really fit too well when assembled. Back To The Egg has its faults, but it generally isn’t boring. This is an exception.
11. “So Glad To See You Here”- The “Rockestra” band hangs around for this full-throttle track, but the sound and fury turns out to be an empty shell.
10. “Again And Again And Again”- Denny Laine’s lead vocal on the album suffers from weak lyrics, which is too bad, because the thing is halfway-catchy and benefits from some good harmonies.
9. “After The Ball/Million Miles”- McCartney as a gospel emoter hadn’t been heard from too much since his two formidable ballads from Let It Be. These two tidbits of song are nowhere near that category, and the repetitiveness of the thing can be wearying, but it’s an interesting curve ball.
8. “The Broadcast”- It sounds like it wandered in from some forgotten Pink Floyd album. But that stiff-upper-lip voice is strangely compelling, even if it’s completely out of sorts with the rest of the album.
7. “To You”- A serviceable rocker played and sang with gusto. As is the case with much of Back To The Egg, the performance outstrips the songwriting.
6. “Spin It On”- Maybe this was meant to be an answer to punk, but it honestly comes off more like adrenalized rockabilly. Nice guitar work throughout by Lawrence Juber in his Wings debut, and it packs an unfussy punch.
5. “Rockestra Theme”- I’ve always thought it was the height of indulgence to gather a rock supergroup in the service of a pretty basic instrumental (why no solos?). If nothing else though, it showed that Paul’s Rolodex was impeccable, and the melody he composes works nicely in the bombastic setting.
4. “Baby’s Request”- Bing Crosby meets Sam the piano player at Rick’s in this standard-esque closer. Paul has proven time and again he can do this kind of thing; one wonders if he would have been a Cole Porter-type had he been born about a half-century earlier.
3. “Getting Closer”- If McCartney was regurgitating sounds he may have heard from newbies like Cheap Trick or Squeeze, well, turnabout is fair play. “Getting Closer” is taut and freewheeling all at once, a nice single that probably deserved a better radio fate than it actually enjoyed. The escalating, unresolved finish scores it points as well.
2. “Old Siam, Sir”- This song attempts to construct a narrative of sorts and ends up making “Jet” sound like great literature. That said, McCartney’s screaming melody and the muscular, dramatic rock arrangement makes for an engaging, even powerful track. In that way, it resembles a distant, slightly lesser cousin of “Beware My Love” from Wings At The Speed Of Sound.
1. “Arrow Through Me”- McCartney is back in the same kind of quiet storm mode as he inhabited on “Girlfriend” from London Town. The Stevie Wonder vibe is strong with this one, but, hey, in the 70’s, there was no better pop artist to emulate, right? The horns are great, and one of Paul’s more underrated couplets is here: “Ooh, baby, you wouldn’t have found a more down hero/If you’d started with nothing and counted to zero.”
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on Paul’s “other” band, check out the link below to pre-order my new book Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, due out in March of 2017. And to check out all of the books and e-books in my Counting Down series, the link below that leads to my Amazon page.)
As a general rule, when Paul McCartney was forced to take most of the burden on himself the create a Wings record, the resulting record turned out to be better than the group’s more democratic efforts. Much like Band On The Run, 1978’s London Town was essentially carried by McCartney, wife Linda, and Denny Laine when other band members headed for the hills at the last minute. And while it doesn’t quite reach the masterpiece status of Band On The Run, London Town, until it peters out at the very end, abounds with such effortless geniality and tunefulness that it makes a strong case to be included among the Top 10 McCartney post-Beatles albums.
14. “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”- It gets lost somewhere between traditional folk and prog, and McCartney doesn’t really try hard enough with the lyrics here. Really the only time this album seems ponderous.
13. “Morse Moose And The Grey Goose”- Bizarre right down to the core, this track sounds like McCartney started trying to make some grand statement that got away with him. It’s too bad the last two songs on the disc are the weakest; sequencing (or maybe lack of editing is the better term) mars an otherwise excellent album.
12. “Backward Traveller”- It’s barely over a minute long, but it’s urgently engaging enough to make us wish that it were fleshed out to a full length.
11. “Deliver Your Children”- The minor-key whoosh, the finger-picked acoustic guitar a la “I’ve Just Seen A Face,” the solid harmonies from McCartney and Denny Laine, the refrains: All are fine. The lyrics start well but spin out of focus by the third verse, which keeps this one from quite meeting its potential.
10. “Name And Address”- Not much going on here beyond some rockabilly grooves and McCartney trying out his Elvis impression, which turns out to be not half-bad. The Stray Cats were listening.
9. “Cuff Link”- The light-saber synths are a nice contrast to the ominously funky rhythmic thrum, which, of course, is McCartney on bass and drums, which, of course, turns out to be all you need.
8. “I’ve Had Enough”- It has a very Wings-y feel to it, right? The fact that the song was recorded before Jimmy McCulloch and Joe English skedaddled probably accounts for that, but McCartney is still driving the bus with his feisty vocal.
7. “Cafe On The Left Bank”- The lyrics could have come off as twee, but McCartney’s decision to marry them to some of the toughest music on the disc erases any concerns. Some excellent lead guitar and clopping percussion keep this one vibrant and entertaining throughout.
6. “Famous Groupies”- Maybe not as sweetly appreciative as George Harrison’s “Apple Scruffs,” McCartney’s ode to rock hangers-on is still suitably awed at these sirens’ surprising powers over the musicians they enchant. Winking fun and, you guessed it, catchy.
5. “Children Children”- For my money, this is Denny Laine’s finest moment in Wings. He co-wrote the song with Macca, and you’d have to think Paul had a big hand in the song’s melodic charms, which are hopeful with a slight undertow of melancholy. Nonetheless Laine plays an engaging Pied Piper. Sweet without being cloying.
4. “Girlfriend”- McCartney’s efforts to craft a song for Michael Jackson led him to inadvertently test out his falsetto stylings, which turned out to be quite seductive in their own right; you can kind of understand why the titular character would be stepping out with this guy on the side. McCartney also adds the high-drama instrumental break (omitted by Jackson in his own take), which deepens what could have been just a fun but lightweight ditty.
3. “With A Little Luck”- One of the things critics of McCartney’s lyrics fail to recognize is just how adept he was at matching the words he chose to the the music he crafted. So while “With A Little Luck” might not seem like much on paper, the tentative optimism of the tune is perfectly captured by Paul’s simple declarations. Even the little-engine-that-could backing vocals at the end are right on point. What starts out as a humble tune, barely willing to poke its head out of the ground, becomes quite decisive and stirring.
2. “London Town”- The obviously antecedent here is “Penny Lane,” right down to the colorful characters and dignified brass. That the title track wakes up the echoes of such a formidable number is to its everlasting credit. It also sets a relaxed, benign tone for the rest of the album that turns out to be its calling card. Also, it seems redundant at this point in this particular Retro Review series to say that McCartney writes an enchanting melody, but, really, it’s a beauty. And the brief, rocking break shows there’s some spunk in the old city after all.
1.”I’m Carrying”- I have no idea what the narrator is carrying, nor do I know the occasion of this meeting with him and the girl in her room. But I do know that it is mesmerizingly romantic, thanks to the music behind the tale and the melody with which it is told. The delicately-picked guitar and the carefully-arranged strings form the airborne foundation, and the tune soars even above that with avian grace. In the final repeat of the refrain, you can hear McCartney start to let loose with some wordless “ooo-ooh” vocals, for even he is caught up in the sheer beauty of his creation. Who wouldn’t be?
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on Macca’s “other” group, check out the link below to preorder my new book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, due out in March 2017. Below that is a link to my Amazon page, where you can check out all my Counting Down books and e-books.)
By attempting to prove that Wings was a band of equals, Paul McCartney inadvertently ensured that the world knew just the opposite was true. 1976’s Wings At The Speed Of Sound gives every member of the band a chance to shine, but the songs are generally weak to middling and are often rendered without much imagination. Two ditties for which McCartney amped up the charm made the album a smash, but it hasn’t held up that well four decades down the line. Here is a song-by-song review:
11. “Wino Junko”- The title pretty much says it all about the subject matter of this one that puts Jimmy McCulloch in the lead. Tries for bluesy but ends up woozy, and, at over five minutes, it really drags.
10. “Time To Hide”- Denny Laine wrote and sang this clunker, which is about as generic as it comes in terms of arena rock. The instrumental break isn’t bad, so that’s something.
9. “Cook Of The House”- Linda does rockabilly, and it’s as shambolic as you would expect. A more beefed-up sound might have drawn attention away from the vocals, so the production doesn’t do the missus any favors either. But at least she’s having fun on lead, which can’t be said for some of her other bandmates.
8. “San Ferry Anne”- The horns are a bit overdone here (a common problem throughout the album), and the lyrics don’t really go anywhere. Next.
7. “Must Do Something About It”- It’s too bad McCartney didn’t give drummer Joe English more to work with for his lead vocal on the album. The song is breezy but forgettable; English, on the other hand, shows a lot of personality as a singer.
6. “The Note You Never Wrote”- This one starts enticingly enough in a mysterious sort of way, and there are some pretty moments in the melody. But it loses its way, musically and lyrically, through no fault of Laine’s serviceable lead vocal.
5. “She’s My Baby”- Imagine one of Stevie Wonder’s punchy, funky love songs with bizarro lyrics (comparing a woman to gravy is certainly a new one) and you’ve got the sense of this one. The music is just feisty enough to put it across, but barely.
4. “Let Em In”- Paul is back in “All Together Now” mode here, writing a trifle that’s undeniably catchy and just as lightweight. There’s some fun to be had in the name-dropping, and the drowsy horn is a kick. Getting a Top Five hit out of this was a steal, but it fits the era’s radio fare very well. And if that were easy to write a smash single, I guess everybody would be doing it.
3. “Silly Love Songs”- I don’t have a problem with the quasi-disco or the sentiment; you can’t blame the guy for developing rabbit ears considering all the shots he had taken after The Beatles disintegrated. He could have made his point in two minutes instead of six, if you ask me, but, while his bass line is front and center, it certainly keeps your attention.
2. “Warm And Beautiful”- I go back and forth on this song from thinking it’s an unheralded classic to believing that McCartney could have done it in his sleep. And maybe those two beliefs can coexist. I do think the melody is maybe a tad facile, but the little guitar break is wonderful touch and the strings are employed with great care. There are a lot of worse ways to spend three minutes than listening to unabashed prettiness, right?
1.”Beware My Love”- That little three-note instrumental hook brings some high drama to the proceedings. It calls for McCartney to rise to the occasion with vocals that start at an emotional precipice and stay up there for the entirety. There’s not much to it other that passion and intensity, but the way those two traits are sustained is quite impressive. An odd one, for sure, but quite entertaining.
(E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on Macca’s other band, check out the link directly below to preorder my new book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs. The link below that is to my Amazon page, through which you can check out all of my Counting Down books and e-books.)
It’s never a good sign when an album is more well-known for the tour it spawned than for the music contained on it. And Paul McCartney’s decision to allow some of his fellow Wings to take the lead might have helped band harmony, but it didn’t help the quality of 1975’s Venus And Mars. Macca didn’t produce any out-and-out classics for the album either. That said, if you only consider his songs, there’s an impressive variety of styles that he covers here that are all handled adeptly, and his commitment to the material is never less than full-tilt. Here is a song-by-song review:
13. “Spirits Of Ancient Egypt”- Caught between a generic rocker and quasi-mystical claptrap, Denny Laine’s lone writing contribution to the album is eminently skippable.
12. “Crossroads Theme”- Wings interpretation of the theme to a long-running British soap opera is tacked on at the end because, well, why not, I guess.
11. “Letting Go”- An odd choice for a single this. Maybe McCartney felt he needed a rocker to put across to the masses, but why he chose to embellish it with such overbearing brass and such embarassingly clunky lyrics is a mystery.
10. “Medicine Jar”- Jimmy McCulloch does a nice job here as a frontman, even if the song doesn’t quite feel of a piece with the rest of the material. Sad subject matter though considering his drug-and-alcohol-related death just a few years later.
9. “You Gave Me The Answer”- McCartney has never been shy about his love of pre-rock genres, and his facility with melody translates across the eras. This is by no means good enough for the Great American Songbook, but it’s charming nonetheless right down to the old-timey vocals.
8. “Venus And Mars”- The acoustic-and-synth opener to the album, it’s intriguing enough that one wishes to hear the full song. With the reprise, you kind of can.
7. “Venus And Mars (Reprise)”- See above.
6. “Magneto And Titanium Man”- Casting Marvel superheros and villains as side players in the tale of an alluring female robber shouldn’t work, but McCartney’s conviction makes it so. It doesn’t hurt that the rhythm keeps your head bobbing even when the narrative twists and turns beyond all sense.
5. “Rock Show”- It rocks convincingly and includes some nifty interludes that show off McCartney’s ability to seamlessly meld seemingly disparate parts into a whole. Songs about the life of a touring rock band are notoriously hard to pull of though, since the average Joe can’t relate, and I’m not sure if Paul completely clears that hurdle here. But the energy wins the day.
4. “Love In Song”- The melody carries this a long way, as does McCartney’s lovely, yearning vocal. You can make fun of the lyrics if you want to when you read them off the page, but, in the context of the dreamily melancholy tune, they’re just fine.
3. “Treat Her Gently/Lonely Old People”- I guess I could nitpick and wish that Paul had written another verse to beef this one up. But the sentimental sway of the chorus gets me, as McCartney sweetly imagines the inner life of an elderly couple. It might not be as incisive as John Prine’s “Hello In There” about the subject matter, but it deserves credit for even considering that subject matter at all.
2. “Listen To What The Man Said”- He could crank out tunes like this with such effortlessness that he was often taken for granted at the time. Now when you look back at the catalog and see the sheer amount of indelible singles he turned out you have to bow down to the magnitude of it all. There’s a sweet message in the song about love’s indomitable nature that the melody delivers right to the heart. McCartney’s vocal sticks to the sturdiness of that main tune, allowing Tom Scott to sprint all over the place on sax for just the right flourish.
1. “Call Me Back Again”- You’d never guess that the bulk of Venus And Mars was recorded in New Orleans from the sound, with the striking exception of this track, which is kind of a son of “Oh Darling” what with McCartney soulfully emoting. The horns are employed much more artfully here, and Paul does this kind of scream-singing as well as anyone. You can imagine him on his knees in the studio, wracked with emotion as he hopes for that call back. Wonderful performance.
(E-mail me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @JimBeviglia. For more on Paul McCartney’s “other” band, check out the link below to preorder my new book, Counting Down The Beatles: Their 100 Finest Songs, due in March 2017. The link below that is to my Amazon page, where you can check out all my Counting Down books and e-books.)